A slow start out of the Olympic blocks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2007, 12:00am


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'A lifetime of training for just 10 seconds.' That was how the great African-American athlete Jesse Owens described his mixed emotions after winning a gold medal - and sporting immortality - in the 100-metres final at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

No one could accuse Owens of being poorly prepared. His whole adult life to that point had focused on his quest for gold. We in Hong Kong, by contrast, have only nine months before our own Olympic challenge - and right now, we're simply not in shape.

In August next year, Hong Kong will have the honour of being an Olympic city, hosting the equestrian events of the 2008 Games. It is the opportunity of a lifetime - and an opportunity we are currently in danger of allowing to pass us by.

Cross the border to the mainland, and the billboards, the posters, the paraphernalia and the excitement are there for everyone to see. Here in Hong Kong, by contrast, there isn't so much as an Olympic murmur, let alone an Olympic fervour. I have every confidence that, as the time draws near, Hong Kong will focus on the challenge that the Olympics presents. My concern, however, is that we will leave it too late, and fail to make the most of this golden opportunity.

It isn't only athletes who benefit from the Olympics. With the eyes of the world upon us, the 2008 Games will benefit every person who lives, works and does business in Hong Kong and mainland China. We must be ready to welcome the Olympic tourists on their way to and from the Games on the mainland, and those watching the Hong Kong events.

We must be ready to take advantage of the opportunity to burnish Hong Kong's appeal around the world and showcase our huge variety of attractions. We must entice and attract as many visitors as we can and ensure that they take away with them memories not just of the greatest Games yet, but of a diverse and vibrant city that they will want to return to again and again.

To prepare ourselves properly, we must promote ourselves properly. That is why the Hong Kong Tourism Board, which I chair, has already begun taking our message around the world. We are selling Hong Kong as a destination in New Zealand, Britain, France and the United States. In the months ahead, we will intensify those promotion efforts in target cities across the continents.

We plan to implement a series of initiatives to improve the Olympic atmosphere and enrich visitors' experiences. These include special decorations and meet-and-greet events at ports of entry. But the true fervour needs to come from within the hearts of Hongkongers - and that is lacking.

Time is a precious commodity, as Owens appreciated when he reflected ruefully on the years of effort he invested for his 10 seconds of glory. But the legacy of his deeds in that golden summer more than 70 years ago lives on today.

We cannot afford to stand on the sidelines and watch the Olympics pass us by, like observers watching the finalists in the 100-metres race flash before their eyes. We must get involved, engaged and engrossed. The prize that the 2008 Games offer is more than just a moment in the sun. It is a legacy that will last for years. Every schoolchild should be chattering excitedly about it; every business planning promotions around it.

Our legacy will be a strengthened sporting interest among our young people. It will be a hugely enhanced international reputation for Hong Kong. Our legacy will be the knowledge that, in the summer of 2008, we were a successful and celebrated Olympic city. But that legacy has yet to be earned.

Let's get on the starting blocks now. Let's not waste another day. Let's get a proper Olympic countdown under way in this co-host city and remind everyone just how close it is, just how much there is still to do, and just how much we have to win or lose.

James Tien Pei-chun is chairman of the Hong Kong Tourism Board and the Liberal Party